How will your SEO & PPC be affected by Google Instant?

Google rolled out their new Google Instant interface in the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Russia around Thursday 9th September, stating:

Google Instant is a new search enhancement that shows results as you type. We are pushing the limits of our technology and infrastructure to help you get better search results, faster. Our key technical insight was that people type slowly, but read quickly, typically taking 300 milliseconds between keystrokes, but only 30 milliseconds (a tenth of the time!) to glance at another part of the page. This means that you can scan a results page while you type. The most obvious change is that you get to the right content much faster than before because you don’t have to finish typing your full search term, or even press “search.”

So, “search speed” is clearly one of the main benefits touted by Google.

The best way to see this new interface, is to access Google via this link ( – then start searching: You will see the natural and paid search results change as you type.

Google Instant is expected to be rolled out in New Zealand and Australia eventually. At this stage no date has been set as yet for an AU/NZ release, however, Google has confirmed that new domains and languages will be added “over the next several months”.

The Benefits of Google Instant

The Google Instant microsite lists the following 3 key benefits:

  • Faster Searches: By predicting your search and showing results before you finish typing, Google Instant can save 2-5 seconds per search.
  • Smarter Predictions: Even when you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, predictions help guide your search. The top prediction is shown in grey text directly in the search box, so you can stop typing as soon as you see what you need.
  • Instant Results: Start typing and results appear right before your eyes. Until now, you had to type a full search term, hit return, and hope for the right results. Now results appear instantly as you type, helping you see where you’re headed, every step of the way.

First Rate has investigated this new search functionality and we have pulled together some insights in this blog.

Implications for Pay per Click Marketing

This is clearly a big change to Google’s search interface. But given that it’s “early days”, at this stage it’s near-impossible to predict the full impact. Here is what we know about AdWords so far:

It will change the way AdWords impressions are counted. In the past, an impression was an impression. Now, an impression occurs when:

  • the user presses “enter” to finalise a search, or
  • the user pauses on the current results for 3 or more seconds, or
  • the user clicks on a result (paid or natural).

This will change the number of impressions, likely increasing the number and so decreasing click through rate. Overall, Google predicts better traffic quality as a result of Google Instant.

At this early stage, one shouldn’t be too concerned about this as all advertisers will be affected exactly the same way – so we would expect the effect to even out. Obviously we’ll be watching this one carefully.

Implications for Search Engine Optimisation

Firstly, there is currently much debate whether Google Instant will increase, or indeed decrease, the focus on head terms – and whether it will reduce the diversity of the long tail.  Frankly there aren’t as yet any clear answers, what we do know is that when Google Suggest was launched, long tail searches increased.

One side of the argument suggests that this change is likely going to increase the already heavy focus on the top natural and paid listings. If people keep refining their search until they see a result they like, why would they ever scroll to the bottom of the page?  This makes SEO and a well-run Google AdWords campaign more important than ever.

But potentially Google Instant is good news for online marketers. We could speculate that overall an increase in search volumes will be observed, because:

  • Search queries are now easier to trigger (no need to hit enter)
  • By being instant, it will teach more users to modify their searches (i.e. to try multiple queries – searching more and clicking less)

The key question is: What effects will the increased search volumes have? One likely effect is increased discoverability (i.e. long tail search phrases) – users will more likely modify their searches to find exactly what they are looking for.

Secondly, there will be less need to target misspellings because Google’s “Did you know” feature is also happening on the fly now.

Thirdly, keyword selection will likely change a bit as well. For example, in the new interface, users are much more likely to type in “Sydney Hotels Reviews” than “Reviews Sydney Hotels”. We might see users’ orthographic typing behaviour change.

Before and After – Visits by Search Term Length

Nathan Safran‘s analysis of 1 week of search traffic before and after Google Instant was switched on, shows that the distribution of traffic in terms of search term length is virtually identical.

The data is based on ten high traffic websites across multiple verticals for a total of 880,000 visits. Due to the sample size across different verticals, one can assume that any search behaviour observed is following a standard normal distribution.

Visits by Search Term Length - Google Instant (source:

So as far as search term length differences are concerned – it appears user behaviour has remained pretty much the same, at least for now. What this data obviously doesn’t show, is to what extent users will be modifying their search behaviour as they adapt to the new Google Instant search interface. We may well observe a difference in the search term length a couple of months from now.


At this time the best strategy is to “wait and see”.

Due to the fact that Google Instant has not yet been released in Australia and New Zealand, we are in a good position to continue observing overseas markets and adjust SEO and PPC tactics accordingly.